Saturday, March 27, 2021

Features Creatures: LOVE AND MONSTERS

Love and Monsters is a post-apocalyptic creature feature lark with the tone of a PG-13-ized Zombieland. But Dylan O’Brien is no Jesse Eisenberg, if you catch my drift. When he, looking as he does like his photo should be in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, jokes about not being in shape, or affects an aw-shucks shyness of an in-his-head loner, it doesn’t exactly land. Nevertheless, the movie just doesn’t give him the scaffolding to be convincing, so I won’t place all the blame on his shoulders. The movie has this weightless, airless, derivative bent that never sparks to life. Maybe the problem is the tone, a light la-di-da hand-waving the end of the world as we know it that lands differently today than it would’ve, oh, thirteen months ago or so. It kicks off with a jokey expositional voice over that quickly lets us know that, some years before the start of the story proper, radioactive chemicals rained down on our planet and turned all the bugs and lizards into big monsters. Watching a chart fill up the loss of 95% of the world’s population hits a bum note for how it is glossed over and shrugged off. Oh, well. We pick up with O’Brien, having spent several years in a bunker where everyone else is a couple. He misses his pre-apocalypse girlfriend (Jessica Henwick) and decides to trek across the monster-filled land to find her hideout. This takes him through a variety of episodic encounters with said monsters—drooling mega-ants, massive frogs, towering snails—and a survivalist (Michael Rooker). Director Michael Matthews, in his Hollywood debut, gives the critters a slick look — somewhere between cheap 50’s B-movie chintziness and Spiderwick Chronicles YA semi-real gloss — and serves up Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson’s slight screenplay with rote professionalism. But it also reminds one of so many other, similar, better movies, that it’s never more than underwhelming.

Even simpler, yet easily more satisfying, a monster movie is writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter. It’s a spare, stripped-down, no-frills, effective and efficient tale of action and survival. Anderson has always been expert at making more out of less, building out suggestions of baroque worlds and staging plots of sincere simple genre vision. Once again starring his wife Milla Jovovich — the capable anchor of his flagship franchise, Resident Evil — this new based-on-a-video-game fantasy actioner finds a military unit searching the desert for a missing platoon when, zip-zap-zoom, an other-worldly lightning storm sends them to an alien landscape. There they must battle enormous creatures — swarms of enormous spiders laying gross parasitic egg sacks, or gigantic gnarly lizards of one dinosaur variety or dragon-like others — and find a way to get back home. That’s really all there is to it. Jovovich’s soldier makes a quick study, adapting her combat to fight back the beasts, getting an assist from a mysterious monster hunter (Tony Jaa), whose lengthy getting-to-know-the-interloper sequences play out like John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific was transposed to a pulp sci-fi paperback’s painted cover. Eventually, we circle back to the sand pirates (led by Ron Perlman, whose gravely voice, stony face, towering physique, and earnest affect are always perfect for this sort of thing) who made an appearance in the cold open, as the line between this world and ours grows perilously thin. The hectic monster battles are fun, and Anderson knows his way around quickly sketching an immediately understandable nonsense world. The picture is a neat, short, economical little big movie that’s exactly what it promises and no more.

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